LIVING BLUES • April 2018
Friends Along the Way
Entertainment One – EOM-CD-8958
Some of the very best albums have been
the result of friends getting together to play music. There’s a spirit in the recordings that transcends time and place, and a certain closeness and harmony pervades the music itself—no matter the crushing sadness or the soaring joy of the lyrics—and that harmony palpably flows out of the speakers on every song on the album. Pianist Mitch Woods has made many friends along the way, and they join him on his new album.
Woods and friends recorded these songs during 2016. Woods’ earlier recording Keeper of the Flameinspired Friends Along the Way, and he includes two cuts—Chicago Express, a duet with James Cotton, and Never Get Out of These Blues Alive, with John Lee Hooker—from that earlier album. The friends who join him on this new album include, among others, Van Morrison, Taj Mahal, Ruthie Foster, Charlie Musselwhite and Marcia Ball, and the songs range from down-and-dirty roadhouse rockers to poignant ballads.
Joe Louis Walker joins Woods for a jumping, rousing version of Champion Jack Dupree’s Nasty Boogie. Woods’ raucous
juke joint piano launches the song, and Walker joins with shouting vocals and scalding guitar licks. Ruthie Foster joins Woods for a gorgeous version of her song Singin’ the Blues; Woods soft, tinkling piano flows under Foster’s vocals, inflecting the blues ballad with jazz tones. Musselwhite’s harmonica rolls provide the musical theme around which Woods builds his piano melodies and his blues-lounge vocals on Cryin’ for My Baby. Woods shines on the intro to Saturday Night Boogie Woogie Man, a hopping, rocking duet with Elvin Bishop. The album opener, Take This Hammer, starts sparely with Taj Mahal’s silvery guitar riff, and Woods joins in with soft piano rolls; Van Morrison soon joins and the song swells to a height that illustrates the beauty of
three friends following each other’s musical leads and producing a beautiful song. It’s the perfect start to the album, giving a preview of how stunningly good the songs on the album are bound to be.
Friends Along the Way celebrates great music and lifelong musical friendships. It’s a chance for these friends to honor one another; it’s a chance for these friends to have fun playing the music that means the most to them; and, it’s a chance for us to hear some powerful, touching and downright exciting music.
—Henry L. Carrigan Jr.